USAID, which has been working in Russia since shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, had budgeted $49.47 million for Russian programs for fiscal 2012, with 59 percent of that directed for programs supporting democracy and civil society, 37 percent designated for health projects and 4 percent for environmental programs. It had 13 American employees, supported by Russian staffers.
In commenting on the decision Tuesday, Nuland, the State Department spokeswoman, was careful not to directly criticize Russia. “This is a sovereign decision that any country makes, whether they want to have U.S. assistance through AID,” she said.
Matthew Rojanksy, an expert on Russia at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said in an e-mail that he thought this decision had been brewing for a while.
“Russian authorities have made clear for the better part of a decade that they see Russia as a great power, and a provider of assistance, not a recipient,” he wrote. “Add to that tension over the pre- and post-election protests, which the Kremlin alleges were orchestrated by U.S.-funded NGOs, plus the deep disagreement over U.S. democracy promotion activities in the Middle East, and you can see why this decision may have come now.”
The expulsion was announced just more than a week after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton had seen Putin at an Asian security conference in Vladivostok.
Nuland said the State Department was informed of Russia’s decision on Sept. 12, just a few days after Clinton left. She said U.S. officials had indications that the move was coming during Clinton’s visit but did not get final word until later. She did not fully explain the nearly one-week delay in making the decision public; nor did she say why Russia had not announced its own decision first.
Interest within the U.S. government in Russian assistance programs has been waning for several years. Nuland alluded to that in describing the different approach USAID began to take after the financial recovery fed by high oil prices lifted Russia out of poverty. USAID typically no longer paid in bulk for programs but sought to work in a consulting role with local partners. The $50 million in this year’s budget is about half the average spent in Russia over the past 20 years — with most of the spending coming in the 1990s.
Lally reported from Tbilisi, Georgia. Will Englund contributed to this article from Vilnius, Lithuania, and Anne Gearan contributed from Washington.